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Sept. 9, 2010 Volume 32, No. 3

Diversity initiative receives grant to develop peer programs


Funds will help MU create “national movement”

The University of Missouri has received $30,000 to help faculty at other universities handle opposing viewpoints on religion, culture and politics that can arise on campus.

The funding from the International Institute for Education will allow MU to expand the Difficult Dialogues Initiative, or DDI, which promotes diversity in higher education by encouraging the discussion of controversial topics. Eryca Neville, a former DDI faculty fellow who was recently named coordinator of MU’s initiative, said fostering civil discourse on sensitive issues is essential to democratic citizenship in an increasingly diverse society.

“Facilitating difficult dialogues is an important tool to include various points of view across the wide range of perspectives in the wide variety of functions needed to sustain a university’s function as well as a productive society as a whole,” Neville said.

MU was one of 27 recipients of $100,000 grants from the Ford Foundation Difficult Dialogues Initiative in 2005. Phase I of the program explored issues that can divide students in classrooms and on campus, and to teach faculty how to handle those issues by bringing them into the open. Phase II included hosting a summer institute for other universities to develop difficult dialogues programs on their campuses. Designed in collaboration with DDI awardees from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Alaska-Anchorage, the institute, held in summer 2009, attracted teams from 10 universities to learn about the faculty development and interactive theatre elements of the DDI.

Roger L. Worthington, assistant deputy chancellor and chief diversity officer at MU, said the new funds will allow MU’s program to “expand the reach” of Difficult Dialogues to six schools that participated in the institute. “Our new goal is to help other campuses around the country develop their own difficult dialogues program,” Worthington said, “and to establish a national movement for the advancement of difficult dialogues pedagogy in higher education.”

MU has received a total of $230,000 in grants to support its DDI, including an additional $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation and its partner organizations in 2008. The DDI is part of the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative, which is committed to creating a more inclusive learning and research environment at MU.